ATLANTA – He sparred with reporters. He defended his record. He brushed off criticism as part of the job.
NCAA President Mark Emmert was downright defiant with anyone who questioned whether he’s leading the organization in the right direction.
The annual state-of-the-NCAA news conference leading up to the Final Four turned into a series of contentious exchanges Thursday, as Emmert insisted anyone pushing for significant reform is bound to rub some people the wrong way.
“Some of the criticisms about change and what’s going on naturally get leveled at the guy at the top,” he said. “If you’re going to launch a change agenda, you’re got to be willing to deal with criticism. So, OK, I deal with criticism.”
The NCAA has come under fire for botching the investigation into a rogue booster at Miami, and there have been complaints about the way the governing body handled other cases, such as the harsh sanctions leveled against Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Emmert has acknowledged that investigators overstepped their authority in their zeal to collect information against Miami. A new enforcement director was brought in to clean up the mess.
“The Miami issue had some enormous foul-ups in it,” he said. “We’ve addressed those issues.”
Still, the organization faces about a half-dozen legal challenges to the way it does business, including a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. He believes the NCAA overstepped its authority when it imposed sanctions against Penn State for covering up the Sandusky case, based largely on a scathing internal review led by former FBI chief Louis Freeh.
“If you’re not getting sued today, you’re not doing anything,” Emmert said. “I don’t know anybody that doesn’t have litigation pending, so I’m not going to apologize for the fact that we have a very litigious society and there’s plenty of reasons to file suit against large organizations.”
Emmert also faced questions about a report from USA Today that accused him of shirking responsibility for problems when he worked at Connecticut, LSU and Montana State. The newspaper said Emmert had a pattern of moving on to more lucrative posts before the full extent of his previous troubles were known. He has served as NCAA president since November 2010.
“The fact of the matter is that everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been asked by boards or other bosses to help drive change,” he said. “I’m very proud of the changes that have been made at every place I’ve been along the way.”
Emmert spent the first 15 minutes of his news conference going into great detail about all the changes that have occurred on his watch at the NCAA, many of them designed to toughen academic standards while streamlining the rule book to eliminate confusing guidelines and put the focus on more heinous offenses, such as paying players or fixing grades.